Four years ago, Mexico's Olympic qualifying campaign was so poorly exceuted from start to finish, , it led to the demise of the national team coach, scarred some players so much, they have yet to recover (some even retired), and (most importantly for FMF and their TV partners) made the Mexican Olympic coverage ad buy, well, a little less attractive.
Mexico's failure to even make it to the knockouts was one of the first topics of this particular space.
What has Mexico learned since then?
Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre, Mexico'a National team coach, learned that it is not a good idea to coach both teams. He installed Luis Fernando "Flaco" Tena as the U23 coach. That way, if Mexico loses, then he won't take the heat like Hugo Sanchez did 4 years ago. Hugo's dismissal left Mexico in complete disarray, and came within a few goals of not even qualifying for the hex.
It appears that FMF learned that it is not necessarily a good idea to barnstorm before a major tournament. After the first series of training sessions in Cancun, Mexico's Olympic team went on a 6-city tour, playing anyone they could, trying to sell as many tickets as they could sell. The team did not respond at all, and they had to eek out a draw vs. Canada's squad, who had literally had their first full practice a few days before the tournament started in the first Group match.
This time around, the U23's have only played 2 warm up games, more than 2 weeks apart. They were undressed by the US in Frisco, and then squeezed by the Lions of Teranga, better known to the world as Senegal, last weekend in San Francisco.
Mexico has been training in Southern California ever since, not hopping on planes every other day.
The last obstacle they will need to overcome, of course, is the hardest: arrogance. In 2008, the arrogance showed from the suits down to the water boys was palpable. The "we play our style, no matter what the other team does" attitude from Hugo Sanchez was uncomfortably painful to witness. Particularly when big, bad Mexico could not even score when they had 5 on 1 break-aways vs the Haitians.
So far in his tenure, Chepo de la Torre has done a good job of showing opponents, whoever they are, the highest respect. And he has also done a good job of avoiding the bulletin board fodder, as well as any other claims of entitlement. During the Gold Cup, the press tried to bait him into saying that winning the tourney was an obligation, which he craftily side-stepped. He said, that his obligation was to have his team play well. We'll see this week if Tena and the players are drinking from the same punch bowl.
They still have to play the games, though. And Mexico has been guilty before of not learning from history, more than once. As far as the players are concerned, can this group make the Olympics? Sure they can, as long as they realize that just showing up wearing green (or black) is nowhere near enough - especially the way they have been playing. There is plenty of quality on the team, but this particular group has been consistently inconsistent. And if they haven't figured it out already, they will get their opponents' best games.
If Mexico does manage to qualify, the end product that will take the field this summer in England will look nothing like the team competing in Carson. Carlos Vela and Giovani Dos Santos can play as U23s, and the leaders in the club-house to join the squad as the three reinforcements are Memo Ochoa, Hector Moreno, and Javier Hernandez. But if Mexico does not take care of business, then those five, along with the rest of the U23s will experience the Olympic games from the comfort of their own sofas, watching the all coverage and the discounted ad buys in between at home.